Journal of Elementary Science Education

, Volume 20, Issue 3, pp 17–33 | Cite as

Conversations of family and primary school groups at robotic dinosaurs in a museum? What do they talk about?

  • Sue Dale Tunnicliffe


The story from the museum may not be read by visitors, who come with their own knowledge and understanding and read a different story in the animals. The visitors read a story which makes sense to them and builds on what they already know and interests them.

Increasingly, robotics models are being used in natural history museums, science centers, and zoos to attract visitors and tell some kind of story. What do the visitors actually talk about when looking at such robotic animals? The visitors reported on in this paper were primary school groups and families. Do they talk about similar things at the same exhibits, even though the schools visit for educational purposes and the families of their free choice in their leisure time? Furthermore, within school groups, do different subgroups respond in a different way, gauged by the content of their conversations, to similar robotics? This paper studies the conversational content of primary school and family groups at two different robotics dinosaur exhibits in the Natural History Museum, London. One of the exhibits is no longer on display. These verbal responses were analyzed through using a systemic network. Results indicate that visitors commented on a very simple story told through the design of the exhibit and the movements of the specimens. Visitors also noticed the salient features of the animatronics models as reptiles.


Natural History Museum Story Line School Group Meat Eater School Visit 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Birney, B. (1988). Criteria for successful museum and zoo visits: Children offer guidance.Curator, 31(4), 292–316.Google Scholar
  2. Bliss, J., Monk, M., & Ogborn, J. (1983).Qualitative analysis for educational research. London: Croom Helm.Google Scholar
  3. Brown, C. A. (with Oliver, A., & Bazley, M.). (1997). Making the most of school visits: Interactions between school helpers and children in a hands-on science gallery.Journal of Education in Museums, 18, 24–25.Google Scholar
  4. Dale, E. (1954).Audio-visual methods in teaching. New York: The Dryden Press.Google Scholar
  5. Department for Education and Employment (DfEE). (1995).Key stages 1 and 2 of the national curriculum. London: HMSO.Google Scholar
  6. Driver, R., Guesne, E., & Tiberghien, A. (Eds.). (1985).Children’s ideas in science. Buckingham, UK: Open University Press.Google Scholar
  7. Gelman, S. A. (1988). The development of induction within natural kinds and artifact strategies.Cognitive Psychology, 20(1), 65–95.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Heyman, G. D., & Gelman, S. A. (2000). Pre-school children’s use of trait labels to make inductive inferences.Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 77, 1–19.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Kellert, S. (1985). Attitudes towards animals: Age-related development among children.Journal of Environmental Education, 16(3), 29–39.Google Scholar
  10. Klahr, D. (2000).Exploring science: The cognition and development of the discovery processes. Cambridge: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  11. Lemke, J. (1990).Talking science: Language, learning and values. Norwood, NJ: Ablex Publishing Corporation.Google Scholar
  12. Marshdoyle, E., Bowman, M. L., & Mullins, G. W. (1982). Evaluating programmatic use of a community resource: The zoo.Journal of Environmental Education, 13(4), 19–26.Google Scholar
  13. Peart, B. (1984). Impact of exhibit type on knowledge gain, attitudes and behaviour.Curator, 27(3), 220–237.Google Scholar
  14. Ramey-Gassert, L. (1996). Same place, different experiences: Exploring the influence of gender on students’ science museum experiences.International Journal of Science Education, 18(8), 903–912.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Serrell, B. (1997). Paying attention: The duration and allocation of visitors’ time in museum exhibitions.Curator, 40(2), 108–125.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Solomon, J. (1997). Girls’ science education: Choice, solidarity and culture.International Journal of Science Education, 19(4), 407–417.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Tomkins, S., & Tunnicliffe, S. D. (2001). Looking for ideas: Observations, interpretation and hypothesis-making by twelve-year-old pupils undertaking science investigations.International Journal of Science Education, 23(8), 791–813.Google Scholar
  18. Tunnicliffe, S. D. (1995).Talking about animals: Studies of young children visiting zoos, a museum, and a farm. Unpublished PhD thesis, King’s College, London.Google Scholar
  19. Tunnicliffe, S. D. (1996a). Conversations within primary school parties visiting animal specimens in a museum and zoo.Journal of Biological Education, 30(2), 130–141.Google Scholar
  20. Tunnicliffe, S. D. (1996b). Talking science at animal collections.Primary Science Review, 45, 24–27.Google Scholar
  21. Tunnicliffe, S. D. (1996c). The relationship between pupils’ ages and the content of conversations generated at three types of animal exhibits.Research in Science Education, 26(4), 461–480.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Tunnicliffe, S. D. (1997). The effect of the presence of two adults—chaperones or teachers—on the content of the conversations of primary school groups during school visits to a natural history museum.Journal of Elementary Science Education, 9(1), 49–64.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Tunnicliffe, S. D. (1998). Boy talk: Girl talk—Is it the same at animal exhibits?International Journal of Science Education, 20(7), 795–811.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Tunnicliffe, S. D. (1999). It’s the way you tell it! What conversations of elementary school groups tell us about the effectiveness of animatronics animal exhibits.Journal of Elementary Science Education, 11(1), 23–37.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Tunnicliffe, S. D., Lucas, A. M., & Osborne, J. F. (1997). School visits to zoos and museums: A missed educational opportunity?International Journal of Science Education, 19(9), 1039–1056.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Watson, J. R., Goldsworthy, A., & Wood-Robinson, V. (1999). What is not fair with investigations.School Science Review, 80(292), 101–106.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute of Education, ESRCUniversity of LondonLondonUK

Personalised recommendations